A while ago, on the eve of Lent, I made a resolution to not criticise Ethan for the whole of Lent - and to see where it took us.
I criticise Ethan far too much - even if he displayed exemplary husband and father skills, I'd still find something to criticise (the way he eats his food, the way he stands, the way he chews his tongue during sex...we've been there before - 'Asperger's - it's the little things' from 23rd Feb - enough said on that!)
With or without Asperger's present, criticising someone incessantly is completely counter-productive. It doesn't make the person change. It makes them angry, defensive, despondent. And it doesn't do your relationship any good. You just reach a kind of sulky, angry stale-mate. It fills your head with all the things that are wrong with them rather than what is right.
And for someone with Aspergers, I'm realising it's even harder to take constant criticism. It's hard for them to hear that they're wrong, it's hard for them to back down and admit they've been wrong. It's hard for them to cope with the extra stress of having a harangued wife screeching at them. Or an emotional wife crying at them. All in all, it's just not helpful.
So, with this in mind, I set off on the path of no criticism - helpful, calm discussion after the event is OK but flying-off-the-handle-rants and countless little put-downs had to stop. I have to admit, I've not done all that well. But, on Sunday, I felt we both had a soaring glimpse of what the future could be.
At 10.10am, miraculously, we were all ready for church. So, rather than drive (which we normally do because we're late) I thought we should take advantage of the nice morning and walk. This was a change to the plan and to the norm, but Ethan, slightly irritably (not because he didn't want to walk but because it was a sudden change of plan), agreed.
At about 10.12am, on hearing the plan, the kids all decided they wanted to ride their bikes/scooters. This was a chance that was too good to miss - particularly for our 4-year-old Sam who we've been trying to cajole onto his bike without stabilisers for weeks, to a pretty unenthusiastic response. I knew it would be slightly hassly having them on their bikes but then you can't not let kids develop, learn and have fun just because it means having to slightly put yourself out.
Ethan sighed, put up a bit of an argument, tried just saying an outright no. After all, not only was this totally off plan but it also involved hassle and chaos. The kids and I over-rode him of course. Because I'm sympathetic of his plight to an extent but, at the end of the day, he's part of a family - with 3 lively kids, and he's just got to get on with it sometimes.
So anyway, we set off. It was chaotic, it was back-breaking holding Sam's saddle while he wobbled along. It was noisy having to shout to Oliver to slow down while he raced ahead on his scooter. But it was OK. Everyone was happy - even Ethan was putting on a show of being jolly. And Sam was learning to ride his bike. And we looked set to arrive at church on time. Amazing.
Suddenly Sam fell off his bike. On Ethan's watch. Because Ethan was pushing him too fast, Sam said. Unwilling to be consoled by Ethan, Sam ran to me. Ethan, probably feeling a bit sheepish, feeling rejected that Sam had come to me rather than be comforted by him, and probably just overloaded with the whole chaotic, stressful, unplanned journey to church, walked off and left me with a crying Sam, an over-excited Oliver, a scooter and a pram.
The boys and I got to church late and tear-stained. Even as I bustled in the back door with Oliver, a pram and a scooter having had to abandon Sam at the front door because he'd run ahead of us Ethan, in the congregation, just stared straight ahead and ignored us.
When I eventually sat down (one seat away from Ethan to make a point) I was filled with rage and disappointment. I wanted to lean over to Ethan and whisper in his ear what a b****rd he was, how he'd let us down, how he'd not behaved like a normal father, etc, etc (and normally this is what I'd have done). Instead I just said 'Thanks for abandoning us'. To which Ethan replied 'It's a pleasure.' To which I seethed even more. I was about to let rip on him when I remembered my resolve. So instead I prayed (and I don't want to get all spiritual in this blog). But it gave me an outlet. And it helped me see things more from Ethan's point of view (which is why I can write this blog with some insight) and it calmed me.
I said nothing more and, later, when time and silence (and maybe God) had done their work on Ethan. Ethan leaned over and said he was sorry. And then went on to explain to me why he'd acted the way he had. And, again that he was really sorry. And our day, and our relationship for now, was saved.
So, I've kind of said in hundreds of words what I could have said in just a few: that not wading in with angry criticisms but allowing conscience and time to do its work seems to yield far more productive results.